Transmedia Storytelling in a Convergence Culture

What happens when your favorite hockey team is headed for another losing season? When you get sick of following your hockey team’s on-iceperformance, the best thing to do is follow their off-ice activities. When the narrative of the game is getting old, repetitive and boring, it’s time to follow another story.

It’s time to follow the Twitter account of S Horcov.

S Horcov (@SHorcov) is the captain of the Edmonton Oilers. He has experience fighting Chechens, loves bragging about his intimate relationship with his wife Olga, and has some explicit descriptions of his teammates. A true Komrade who enjoys his life as a hockey player.

But alas, S Horcov is not real. He’s a Russian version of Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff but has become more than just a spoof account. Instead, Komrade Horcov has merged himself with the transmedia storytelling the Edmonton Oilers hockey club has used to provide content to their fans. Through the game itself, newspaper articles, their official website and social media, the Oilers create and spread narratives surrounding the team. But now, we have S Horcov who creates a fictional persona for current players who then go through all sorts of experiences and adventures.

On a recent road trip in Ottawa, for example, the Oilers kidnapped the PM.

Update: Backhand Shelf interviews @SHorcov here.

Aside from the narratives created using the Twitter account, it’s the convergence culture that draws attention. Our culture is dispersed across different platforms in the form of content, but merges together to create a unique experience for fans. But here we see the production of that content put in the hands of an outsider who quickly remixes what’s available to them. S Horcov creates characters based on the actual hockey players and uses current events (i.e., trade rumours) and the hockey schedule to extend the narrative.

Jenkins, H. (2007, March 22). Transmedia Storytelling 101. Retrieved from http://www.henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html

New Media Narratives

Source: Wikimedia Commons

New media is the “amalgamation of traditional media such as film, images, music, spoken and written word, with the interactive power of computer and communications technology, computer-enabled consumer devices and most importantly the Internet.” (Wikipedia)

New media studies is a transdisciplinary field of scholarly inquiry. According to Barbell & Gunther Tress and Gary Fry, transdiscplinary studies are:

projects that both integrate academic researchers from different unrelated disciplines and non-academic participants, such as land managers and the public, to research a common goal and create new
knowledge and theory. Transdisciplinarity combines interdisciplinarity with a participatory approach.

Eight propositions of what new media is can be found in the 2002 book “New Media Reader” (edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort). Source: Wikipedia.

1. New Media versus cyberculture
2. New Media as Computer Technology Used as a Distribution Platform
3. New Media as Digital Data Controlled by Software
4. New Media as the Mix Between Existing Cultural Conventions and the Conventions of Software
5. New Media as the Aesthetics that Accompanies the Early Stage of Every New Modern Media and Communication Technology
6. New Media as Faster Execution of Algorithms Previously Executed Manually or through Other Technologies
7. New Media as the Encoding of Modernist Avant-Garde; New Media as Metamedia
8. New Media as Parallel Articulation of Similar Ideas in Post-WWII Art and Modern Computing

Lev Manovic’s “New Media from Borges to HTML” gives a review of these eight concepts.

Henry Jenkins’ “Eight Traits of the New Media Landscape” looks past the tools and focuses more on the context of new media.

Helga Nowotny, Peter Scott and Michael Gibbons “Introduction: ‘Mode 2’ Revisited: The New Production of Knowledge”.

Transliteracy is:

The ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.

Source: Transliteracy Research Group, Wikipedia

Assignment 2: Choose 3 texts (blog posts, journal articles, book chapters, YouTube videos etc…) that deal with this week’s key ideas of participatory literacy, smart mobs, community/collective action.

We summarized our texts and completed a blog post open to the rest of the class for discussion.

Here are my three blog posts found on the course blog:

Ebbsfleet United
Nordiques Nation
Homebrew Video Games

Assignment 3: Remix culture is fundamentally at odds with older media institution and practises. Investigate a case study which illuminates these tensions.

I used the OilersNation photoshop contest as a case study to highlight three areas of tension: copyright issues, message control and audience vs community. The final paper can be found on the course blog and here on this blog.

Course blog: http://newmedianarrativesonline.blogspot.com

Course blog for the 2012 students: http://nmnonline.blogspot.ca

Rod Phillips

Source: Edmonton Journal

Oilers play-by-play man Rod Phillips officially retired last night. The Oilers honored him for his 37 years behind the mic with a special pre-game ceremony and congratulatory gifts.

The amount of attention and accolades Philips has received is for good reason. For so long he was the voice of the Oilers. TV commentators came and went, since the Oilers broadcasted their games across different networks, so there never was an attachment to a single individual on television. No other play-by-play man, aside from Phillips, could be considered “our” guy.

To me, Phillips was that narrator whose voice echoed the game. The game itself has so much going on, but you begin to rely on his judgment and interpretation of the events. After getting used to his tendencies and phrases, it becomes hard to imagine the game without him.

I think the attachment fans have developed with Phillips is because the narrative of the game is so important. Our experience, interpretation and understanding of the game is through narration. Phillips told a story each game to keep listeners informed and entertained. He never did anything that made him unique or irreplaceable. Yet he remained a highly influential person for fans because of his storytelling abilities.

Edmonton Oilers Legacy – Rod Phillips. (n.d.). Retrieved March 30, 2011 from http://www.oilersheritage.com/legacy/contributions_announcers_rodphillips.html

MacKinnon, J. (2011, March 30). The Voice Part of Oilers History. Edmonton Journal. Retrieved from http://www.edmontonjournal.com/sports/John+MacKinnon+Voice+part+Oilers+history/4526619/story.html?cid=megadrop_story

McCurdy, B. (2011, March 29). Rod’s Retirement Roast: Fans’ Roundtable. The Copper and Blue. Retrieved from http://www.coppernblue.com/2010/6/10/1492529/rods-retirement-roast-fans.

Transmedia Storytelling – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Here’s an example of transmedia storytelling I posted on our class blog. You can find more details about transmedia storytelling from Dr. Henry Jenkins’ blog post.


TMNT used various platforms to continue on and develop its storylines. Aside from the Saturday morning cartoons, there were comic books, feature films and board games. They also utilized video games to engage fans in a medium that not only continued the storyline, but also allowed fans to take control.

The television shows worked well for the storyline since it combined visual and audio effects to draw viewers. It gave fans a sense of what the characters are like and how they react when in conflict with villians. This also established the vision of the animators and creators of TMNT.

Video games gave fans the power to control the heroes within established storylines. Video games works well as a platform since fans have a clear goal in mind, which is to complete the story and finish the game. How they do this is up to player as they decide which character they get to be and control how exactly they finish off the villains. Fans become more familiar with the characters as well as the TMNT narrative.

Photo: http://www.ign.com/blogs

Jenkins, H. (2007, March 22). Transmedia Storytelling 101. Retrieved from http://www.henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html

Transmedia Storytelling – World Wrestling Entertainment

Here’s an example of transmedia storytelling I posted on our course blog for New Media Narratives. You can find more details about transmedia storytelling from Dr. Henry Jenkins’ blog post.

Example 1: World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE)

The WWE has utilized transmedia storytelling in the past to develop its characters and plots. It has been years since I watched wrestling but do remember the methods that were used in the eighties. Television was used for wrestling matches and to promote the good guy versus the bad guy drama. A Saturday morning cartoon was developed starring the wrestlers with stories that contributed to the franchises storylines. The opening itself for Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling was a blend of real-life and cartoon.

Today, the WWE uses weekly television shows along with Twitter to develop their storylines and characters. The television program is live and provides fans with two hours of time for several storylines to develop. Programming includes matches, highlights from previous weeks and promotions for upcoming pay-per-views and merchandise. The television is a valuable medium since wrestling and acting is a visual and audio display. Hearing two men grunt out a match on the radio just would not work out as effectively. Television content is also available online after the show has aired.

Twitter is a platform that allows for the continuation of the storyline before and after the television programming. Fans receive real-time updates regarding content but also stay in touch with the wrestlers who send messages to build up their matches and appearances. It suits the build up of the storylines since it fills the silence that exists between live programming. The storylines don’t always require a visual aid and can be communicated by text.

Jenkins, H. (2007, March 22). Transmedia Storytelling 101. Retrieved from http://www.henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html

Swallow, E. (2011, January 28). How WWE Conquered the Social Media Arena. Mashable.
Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2011/01/28/wwe-social-media/#

NHL Guardian Project

Source: wikimedia.org

The NHL has hired Stan Lee, creator of Spiderman comics, to develop 30 heroes representing each team. These characters “came to life” at the NHL All Star Game this weekend in Carolina (Source: NHL.com). You can see all of the characters and read their back stories at the official Guardian Project website.

A lot of people have wondered out loud how comic book heroes relate to hockey. The obvious rationale is provided by the NHL:

“With an initial plan to reach an all-family audience and narrower target demo of tween boys, GME hopes to bring a new audience to the NHL, while engaging the existing, established hockey fan base through a compelling tale of good vs. evil.” Source: NHL.com

But how do superheroes bring in new fans?

It does tap into the market of comic book fans who are familiar with Stan Lee’s previous work. Being exposed to NHL logos and learning about the teams they represent is a good way to get fans into the game. But it’s the narratives and storytelling that will bring in fans.

Narratives play an important role in communication between people. It’s a way to teach, a way to entertain and a way to engage readers. By having characters, a plot, conflict and an ending, stories manage to stick with us longer and have a greater impact that simply reading lessons or information. An example would be the lessons a child learns when reading a story.

Stan Lee and crew attempt to summarize an entire NHL team and its city into one single character. Here’s an exerpt from The Oiler’s background:

He’s gritty and tough like the roughneck oilrig workers he mostly associates with. He spends a majority of his time roaming the Northwest Territories. He’s most happy when he’s exploring the vast northern wilderness. Whether it’s blasting bad guys with torrents of energized oil, engulfing them in a horrendous blizzard or crushing through concrete walls, the Oiler is one devastating Guardian. Source: nhl.com

A person can get more out of their engagement with a narrative and following a character, rather than just consume information about a topic. The Guardian project ties the information about Edmonton and what an Oiler is into animation and a storyline instead of just presenting facts to consume.

The NHL’s foray into comics also works as an example of transmedia storytelling. Henry Jenkins (2007) defines transmedia storytelling as:

a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience. (Source: Confessions of an Aca/Fan)

The NHL has used television, radio, web, social media and gaming to reach its audience. By using comics, the NHL can continue its storytelling and capturing a wider audience and maintain costs.

According to Jenkins,

comics have emerged as a key vehicle for constructing transmedia narratives — in part because they cost less to produce and are thus lower risk than developing games or filming additional material (Source: Confessions of an Aca/Fan)

It’s easy to mock the NHL for trying out comic book superheroes, especially when they make for easy punchlines. The odd selection of characteristics for some of the guardians as well as the strong resemblance to older Stan Lee characters have been a more popular topic of conversation. But there is good reasoning for a professional sports league, that’s trying to grow its game, to try something as imaginative as this.

The Game as a Narrative

Source: scenariste.org

Following a team, a player, a league, a division can be a long soap opera. Whenever the fan steps in and gets into the game, that’s when the story starts.

There’s thousands of storylines to follow as a fan. A team’s quest for a championship. A player’s development from a junior player to a professional. A league wide battle for top spot. Each game, each play, each season is made of stories. Each game story consists of the same things. Characters, settings, time period, problems, resolutions.

Fans follow these storylines but have always been able to create their own.

For instance, they can follow a local player who goes from the neighborhood rink to the Hall of Fame. Mainstream media outlets, newspapers and blogs can also create a story for such a player, but a fan can have a different take on them. Perhaps they knew them personally or had more knowledge than what made it to the papers.

As commenter’s on blogs, message boards and social media sites, fans can give input on the story and perhaps sway the perspectives of others. In this case, fans not only follow storylines, but they also become part of it as well.